Text of our Advent video series, week 4
Christmas is fast approaching and things are getting hectic — so much to do and so little time! A couple of weeks ago we reflected on the joyful encounter between Mary and Elizabeth; today let’s look at another pair of Biblical women, Martha and Mary. Depending on which translation of St. Luke’s Gospel you read, Martha was distracted, anxious, worried and upset, or troubled with much serving, while her sister Mary sat peacefully at the feet of the Master.
Distracted, anxious and worried about many things — sounds like a lot of us at this time of year! Are you a type A domestic diva like Martha Stewart — or someone like Mary, who would prefer to sit in front of the fireplace giving your guests your undivided attention? At this time of year would you rather make memories or exchange gifts?
I remember so well my first Christmas as a Little Sister. I was responsible for the care of about twenty elderly women and as I was busying myself with decorating, baking and secretly preparing their Christmas gifts, one of the ladies stopped me and said “Sister, you don’t take the time to talk to us anymore!” At first I was upset, but then I realized that what the frail elderly really desire is not material gifts, but the gift of our presence and companionship.
So how can we practice the ministry of presence in this busy season, especially with the frail elderly? Sometimes the best thing we can do, especially if they are in a wheelchair or otherwise have limited movement, is to literally sit at their feet, just like Mary sat at the feet of Jesus! (face to face) We need to slow down and move at their pace. If they have hearing or cognitive deficits we need to remove distractions, unplug from our devices, speak slowly, make eye contact, and give them time to respond. As we do this, the elderly will teach us patience!
Saint Jeanne Jugan is a good role model for us. A young woman who visited the first home of the Little Sisters recalled how Jeanne leaned over the old women, listened to their whispered confidences, smiled at them, and kissed them before she left for her begging rounds. The young visitor noted that Jeanne did things quickly, but without ever giving the impression of being hurried. Several years later Jeanne Jugan received a visit from Charles Dickens, who noted that there was something so calm, and so holy about her that her words went straight to his heart and he felt as though he was in the presence of a higher being.
In a book on the power of kindness a spiritual writer described the qualities that Jeanne Jugan embodied: “If you are a person of gentle feelings, you will attract others by a certain delicacy and attention to their small needs, by discovering their least desires and constantly forgoing your own, and by rendering little services even before they are requested. Do not wait for your neighbor to express a wish, but gratify his unspoken wish. Keep your eyes open to other’s needs.”
This brings us back to Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth and her readiness to serve without having to be asked. Obviously we can’t achieve this level of attentiveness if we are distracted, anxious or worried about many things like Martha was, so this week let’s ask Our Blessed Mother to obtain for us her gentle, loving spirit.
Be sure to check here for more suggestions on how to communicate with individuals with dementia, and for practical ideas on how to simplify your holiday plans and wrap your Christmas in more of what matters — warm-hearted relationships with family and friends!